In the first session of 2021 – and the first since Brexit – the House of Commons will set the strategy for achieving the UK’s aspirations and goals.
Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, described the Government’s vision of a “truly global Britain” as having three ‘pillars’:
- “to prove that we are the best possible allies, partners and friends with our European neighbours;”
- “the UK’s role as an energetic champion of free and open trade;” and
- “the UK as an even stronger force for good in the world.”
The Parliamentary library briefing for MPs, ahead of the debate adds that the ‘Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’ was established in September 2020 with the aim of “focusing the UK’s soft power and use of development aid.” Unfortunately, this was immediately undermined by the Chancellor’s ‘Autumn Spending Review’ – in which the Government announced a big reduction in the ‘overseas aid budget’ – a core spending commitment for the betterment of the World that had been respected by successive Governments for over the last several decades.
Other issues identified in the briefing that MPs will have to take into account are:
- the UK’s relationship with the United States under a new President;
- ongoing tensions with China over Hong Kong are two obvious topics;
- the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on international relations – and on the UK’s future financial commitments;
- a shift in the international order – marked by intensifying great power competition and a shift in the world’s economic centre of gravity towards Asia;
- the increasingly tangible effects of climate change;
- an increasingly complex global economic context; and
- increasing instability and challenges to global governance.
Establishing the goals as an independent sovereign state – and then demonstrating leadership by committing and implementing the strategy are key to establishing credibility. The UK holds the Presidency of the G7 this year – the first time since 2013. Glasgow will host the UN climate change conference COP26 in November.
The Political Declaration (PD) on the future UK-EU relationship, agreed by the UK and EU alongside the Withdrawal Agreement in October 2019, indicated that a future relations agreement would cover co-operation in ‘foreign policy and defence’. However, the present UK Government decided that ‘foreign policy and defence’ does not require a treaty framework – excluded it from negotiations and the ‘Trade and Co-operation Agreement’, announced on 24 December 2020, did not make any such explicit provision.
There are a number of ‘Common Provisions’ between the EU and the UK with an international dimension:
- the principles of democracy, the rule and law and respect for human rights (including respects for various international human rights’ instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights);
- the fight against climate change, and commitment to the Paris Agreement on climate change in particular;
- countering proliferation of weapons of mass destruction;
- implementing obligations to counter the illicit trade in conventional weapons;
- co-operation to combat acts of terrorism in accordance with international law; and
- global co-operation on issues of shared economic, environmental and social interest, including the two parties endeavouring to co-operate on global issues and to co-ordinate positions in multilateral organisations including the United Nations, the G7, G20, OECD, IMF, World Bank and WTO.
There is no clear view from the Government, now that Brexit has happened, as to what ambitions and targets the nation should set for its future as a ‘Global’ player.
The Parliamentary briefing for MPs lists and quotes from speeches from the Prime Minister, and others, when the phrase ‘Global Britain’ has been used in recent months. All are short on detail, any sense of direction or strategy, and set no quantifiable goals or targets.
There are links to newspaper and academic articles that implore MP’s to take action quickly or risk drifting along – a situation that means the country suffers all the costs and disadvantages from leaving the EU ‘single market’ and ‘customs union’ – with none of the benefits that were claimed by the ‘Leavers’ as a Brexit dividend.
The latest Government forecast anticipates an overall reduction of 4.4% per annum in economic activity and GDP compared to remaining a full member of the EU.
The BBC ‘fact check’ on the four claims so far made by the Prime Minister as being possible “only because we have taken back control of our sovereignty” came back as ‘untrue’. Each could have been implemented whilst an EU member state – proven by the fact that other EU nations have done just that.
- “They’ve already got substantial amounts of money coming back into this country, as a result of leaving the EU.” In fact the Treasury has re-calibrated the ‘Brexit settlement costs’ and the UK will pay net £33.4 billion to the EU.
- “One of the first things we’ve done on day one is get rid of pulse trawling.” France and Belgium had already outlawed the practice within their territorial waters.
- “We will be able to ban these huge hoover trawlers that come in and hoover everything off the bottom of the sea.” Note that Johnson is thought to be referring to ‘super trawlers’ – “hoover trawlers” isn’t a widely recognised term. The UK Marine Management Organisation has already granted temporary licences to at least seven super trawlers – six of which are registered in the EU – to continue fishing in UK waters beyond 31 December 2020.
- “One of the things you can do is have free ports.” In fact, there are more than 80 ‘free ports’ operational across the EU. The UK had a number until 2012 when it elected to close them.
During the 2 hour discussion led by Secretary of State, Lizz Truss, nothing new with regard to actions or achievements with respect to Global Britain. Truss in summarising her speech: “At this tough time, we need to embrace our future as a confident, optimistic and outward-looking global Britain,
delivering jobs and prosperity at home while helping lead the fight for free and fair trade abroad.”
MP’s Pre-debate briefing for 11 January 2021: Global Britain